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Why orcas remain in danger of extinction

2 July 2014, 1:59 am EDT By Robert Lawson Tech Times
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Southern resident orcas, otherwise known as killer whales, face several threats to their survival as a species. Ten years after protective efforts began by NOAA, they face problems.  ( Robert Pittman, NOAA )

Orcas face the danger of extinction from three major fronts, according to sources including a local TV station in Seattle, Wash. 

Orcas, otherwise known popularly as killer whales (like the one in the Disney movie, "Free Willy"), face the grim prospect of extinction as their numbers decline on three fronts. 

First, they are some of the most contaminated of all marine mammals on the planet, so scientists and activists are working hard to mitigate the effects of chemical contamination that has made its way through the food chain. These include harsh chemical compounds that are no longer used including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDT (Dichlorodiphenyl-trichloro-ethene). The pollution has taken a toll, even through a decade of protective efforts, reports suggest. 

A second problem is a steady food source. The orcas in Puget Sound eat Chinook salmon. Their preferred cuisine is that of salmon which runs from the Fraser River in Canada. Experts in the United States have had discussions with officials in Canada to try to ensure the killer whales maintain a sustainable diet of the delicious fish they so love to eat. 

Third is the issue of boat noise interfering with their humming. Orcas hum to aid them in hunting and navigation, which they do less often due to humans and their boat travel. Efforts have been put in place to keep large and small craft a designated distance away from areas of orca congregation, but only so much can be done so the killer whales travel and hunt less.

According to news reported from San Juan that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which began its own research into the declining population of orcas, established regulations and oil spill contingencies to protect these marine mammals. 

Tracking has enabled experts to track their winter travel path and the animal is protected under the Endangered Species Act, yet these three forces continue to wreak havoc on their survival. Scientists are still trying to understand the problem in order to try to grow the southern resident orca population. 

Tagging and GPS tracking have given scientists useful data, such as the fact the killer whales travel as far south as California, where they might pick up pollutants on the way to and from. The northern resident population of killer whales is growing, which might actually contribute to a decline in the southern residents because northern residents might get the first shot at the best stock of salmon. This is a theory that has been proposed by scientists. 

Scientists and activists continue efforts to grow the numbers of southern resident orcas, but they will face an uphill battle with contamination, limited food supply and noisy boats in the water, which combine to threaten them with extinction.

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